Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Knowledge Management v. Practice Enhancement

In recent years, I've struggled to try and define knowledge management. I actually joke about it when partners at my firm ask me "What does a Chief Knowledge Officer do anyway?" and my response is often "When I find out, I'll let you know" - which is usually followed by a chuckle. I used to give this long winded, jargon filled response that would typically make a lawyer look at me the same a dog does when you've said something they don't understand - head tilted sideways with one eyebrow lifted. I know that it's been commonly stated that KM means different things to different people and if you pressed me for an answer I guess I'd say that KM ultimately means getting the right information to the right people at the right time. But, does that really help a lawyer understand the value you bring?

I've always felt what we do, at least at my firm, isn't so much 'knowledge management', we're really focused more on what I'd call 'practice enhancement'. This should not be confused with 'practice support'. I think the tools and services most firms offer these days are no longer really in support of a lawyers practice, but truly enhance the way they practice.

Evidence of this shift can be seen in several areas, even in the upcoming Ark Group KM Conference in NY. There's a session titled 'Is KM Morphing into Practice Support Consulting?' Ron Friedmann (Prism Legal Consulting), David Hambourger (Winston & Strawn), and Eugene Stein (White & Case) are presenting on the topic. And while I would debate that what most firms are doing isn't supporting, but enhancing their firm's practice, the point is that more and more firms are starting to look at KM in alternative ways. And if you look at the agenda, many of the sessions are focused on breaking out of the traditional KM topics.

Hunton and Williams, Alston Bird and several other firms have a team of business analysts or consultants that are dedicated to KM or practice support functions. Sonnenschein has someone on their team with the title of "Director of Consultant/Client Advocacy" (I'm jealous).

While I'm not quite ready to dump 'knowledge' from my vocabulary, I am ready to put my focus on enhancing the way my firm's lawyers practice law.

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